The first of its kind in Malta: Training for lawyers to Defend Victims of SLAPPs

This week aditus foundation, together with the Chamber of Advocates, held a training for lawyers to defend victims of Strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPPs). This three-hour workshop, a first of its kind in Malta, used both local and European practitioners and academics to examine existing local and European legislation that can be used by practising lawyers to defends journalists and media organisations, NGOs and activists when threatened or faced with a SLAPP.

Defending against SLAPP suits is an as-yet entirely undeveloped field both in Malta and across European Member States. Most lawyers, if they’ve even heard of the term, have only a vague idea what it encompasses and considering the recent development of the sector it’s unlikely it was mentioned during their time at university.

Dr Michael Zammit Maempel, a local media law expert, carried out the local training component and developed the local curriculum. Dr. Zammit Maempel gave an overview of the existing legal Instruments available to lawyers to combat SLAPPs within the local framework and courts. Furthermore, he gave an outline of the Maltese media reform bills and their implications within the SLAPP context.

Prof Justin Borg-Barthet and Dr Erin Ferguson, from the Anti-SLAPP Research Hub within the University of Aberdeen,  expanded on the European perspective. As scholars within the Hub, they have provided advice to the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE), the European Parliament and the European Commission, as well as co-authoring a Model Law which provided the basis for discussions concerning the EU’s draft Anti-SLAPP Directive.

Prof. Borg Barthet expanded on the elements of what constitutes a SLAPP suit and the scope of the proposed directive that regulates “abusive court proceedings against public participation” that have as their main purpose to prevent, restrict or penalize public participation. Furthermore, early dismissal by local courts of manifestly unfounded proceedings, remedies available to the victim and the enforcement of third-country judgments as key elements of the proposed directive were discussed in detail. Dr. Ferguson gave a crucial overview of Freedom of Information tools and subject access requests and the link with challenging SLAPPs, whilst also highlighting that these very same tools can be used against journalists and activists.

A panel discussion was held at the end of the session in order to tie up the previous speakers and give the participants a feeling of what defending or being a victim of a SLAPP entails. For this session practising lawyers Dr. Joseph Zammit Maempel, specialised in media law, and Dr.Therese Comodini Cachia, specialised in media and human rights law, shared their professional experiences on working in this field. Tina Urso, CEO of the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, spoke about being at the receiving end of a threat or an actual SLAPP suit.

About the Project

PATFox, a project co-funded by the European Union, aims to identify and train between ten and twenty lawyers in eleven EU member states, including Malta, in techniques and strategies for defending against SLAPP suits. PATFox will develop Europe’s first anti-SLAPP curriculum, drawing both on international expertise and European human rights principles, and local procedural knowledge and case law.

The curriculum materials, and recordings of the trainings, will be made available on this website.